MARIA ANA CONSUELO MADRIGAL: In serving people, work becomes joy
By Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
(Editor’s note: The presidential profiles will be running in no particular order but as the stories come in from reporters in the field.)
(Fourth of a series)
MANILA, Philippines—Diving is one of the things Sen. Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal loves.
The view under water is simply spectacular, she says.
The sharks and the barracudas do not scare her.
Where she is now in Congress, she says, these species abound and she is fighting them with hammer and tong.
Corruption is the campaign theme of Madrigal, who is running as an independent candidate for president in the May 10 elections.
She passionately talks against shenanigans in government, particularly in real estate deals, as though she were on a jihad.
If that were so, it was because she learned what being a ship captain was like at a very early age.
At a time when most Filipino children’s familiarity with a boat was confined to those made of paper, Madrigal already was at home on the real thing.
At age 5, ships became the playground of this future senator and aspirant for captain of the ship of state.
“I’d gone into holds and hatches, and I could tell if a ship was a tanker or container. I grew up with that,” she says.
“Many of the captains and CEOs of today’s shipping companies were trained by Madrigal Shipping. We can be proud to say we trained very good people.”
These captains also followed the ideals of the family—incorruptible, hard working.
Old rich family
Madrigal was born on April 26, 1958, to one of Manila’s old rich families.
Her father was a son of the late Sen. Vicente Madrigal. Her mother, Amanda Abad Santos, was a granddaughter of Jose Abad Santos, appointed by President Manuel L. Quezon as president during the war against the Japanese forces and former Chief Justice.
Her granduncle, pre-Commonwealth Assemblyman Pedro Abad Santos, founded the Socialist Party of the Philippines.
Her aunt, Pacita Madrigal-Gonzalez, a senator during the Quezon and Magsaysay administrations, was also the first head of the Social Welfare Administration, now the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Vicente and Amanda Madrigal were natives of Ligao, Albay, and San Fernando, Pampanga, respectively.
Aside from Filipino and English, Madrigal has a working understanding of Kapampangan and Bicolano.
She also speaks fluent French and Spanish, some Portuguese and German.
Madrigal started learning European languages during her family’s religious pilgrimages to Lourdes (in France) and Fatima (in Portugal), among other places.
She later took up French and Economics at Santa Clara University in California, as well as short French language courses at the University of Paris, more popularly known as the Sorbonne, and shipping at Cambridge University in England.
But Madrigal considers her elementary and early high school years at Assumption College in Makati City “one of the best moments” of her life.
“My father didn’t want us to grow up in an atmosphere of martial law so he sent us to America,” she says. She finished her secondary course at Sacred Heart School in Menlo Park, California.
Surprisingly, not a single one of these schools was listed under the “educational background” heading on Madrigal’s official website.
“I didn’t want to show to the people that just because you have privilege you can rise,” Madrigal explains.
“I was educated well because we had the money and the privilege to live and study abroad,” she says. “I don’t want to show off because many cannot even afford to go to school here. It’s no big deal for me, really. What’s more important for me is good character, purity of heart and integrity.”
The Madrigals’ business holdings included, among others, coal trading; coconut oil mills in Luzon and the Visayas; logging concessions in Surigao; a gold mine in Masbate; a cement plant in Rizal; a cotton factory in Tondo, Manila; the jai alai fronton on Taft Avenue, Manila; and landholdings in various parts of what is now Metro Manila and nearby provinces.
They once owned a newspaper chain, called People’s Press, which published the daily Philippine Herald, Debate, Mabuhay and Monday Mail.
The family’s shipping business was assigned to Antonio, while the real estate ventures went to his siblings Jose and Consuelo.
The senator got her nickname “Jamby” from her late uncle Jose. “I was his favorite niece and the name stuck to me.”
The third-generation Madrigals own the posh Ayala-Alabang Subdivision, Alabang Commercial Complex and Susana Heights, all in Muntinlupa City; an 11,000-hectare hacienda in nearby Canlubang, Laguna; as well as an office building at the heart of the Makati business district, among others.
“If you read the book of President Manuel L. Quezon, ‘The Good Fight,’ he called his good friend, my lolo Vicente Madrigal, one of the few people who made his fortune by the sweat of his brow,” says the senator.
She asserts “there’s a big difference between the Madrigal real estate, which started in 1918, and the real estate empire of you-know-who (referring to Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar).”
“If you think the Madrigals are spoiled, they have a miserly streak … We did not steal our capital from the people’s treasury. It was a product of decades of hard work. We made profit with honor. Our wealth is clean,” she says.
Madrigal had served as DSWD undersecretary during the early 1990s. From 1999 to 2001, she was President Joseph Estrada’s adviser for children’s affairs.
In the Senate, Madrigal says she was “happy that I never succumbed to any bribery and other forms of corruption.”
“I never took the people’s money for my personal gain nor did I use my position to make my family’s businesses of which I’ve divested big. I kept my head above water. I was controversial. People either hated me or liked me, but I walked my talk. I put my money where my mouth is. I stood my ground, kept my principles intact and my conscience clear,” she says.
Madrigal’s pet bills included the anti-child pornography and the Magna Carta for Women, among others.
“I didn’t vote for e-VAT. I wanted to increase sin taxes more to increase revenues. I lost their vote but I stood my ground. I voted against Jpepa,” she says, referring to the Japan-Philippines economic partnership agreement.
“I pushed for antidiscrimination against Muslims, fought for the rights of indigenous communities and fought against mining and land grabbing by big landlords of their ancestral domain.”
During the 2001 senatorial polls, Madrigal placed only 23rd among 38 candidates.
In 2004, she surprised everyone when she ended up in fourth place in the 48-man senatorial derby with over 13.2 million votes.
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who placed ninth, accused her of cheating.
“It was below the belt, but in politics the world is round. He may have forgotten and forgiven me for all the things I said against him. We have put our differences aside for the good of the country,” Madrigal says.
On nasty rumors about her and her French husband Eric Jean Claude Valade, including those posted in joke blogs on the Internet, the senator says, “They don’t bother us.” She says she is irked by corruption in the government.
Valade “cannot interfere in my campaign because he’s a foreigner. He doesn’t need the title FG (First Gentleman) anymore because he’s already an FG. He’s a French gentleman,” she says.
They were married on Dec. 7, 2002, at Quinta de Lucsuhin, the Calatagan, Batangas, estate of Madrigal’s late aunt, Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal-Collantes.
In 2008, Madrigal formally filed court pleadings to contest the validity of Collantes’ last will and testament.
Last year, the Makati City Regional Trial Court ruled that the senator was a valid heir to Collantes’ estate, including shares in 18 corporations, some of which own sizable properties at Forbes Park, Makati, and Ayala-Alabang, and several condominium units in Makati and Mandaluyong City.
On her presidential bid, Madrigal says, “Like Seabiscuit (the celebrated US thoroughbred racehorse in the 1930s and 1940s), it’s better to begin slow and end up No. 1 in the finish line than to have a spurt of energy and end up last.”
On her website, Madrigal quoted the famous line of Edmund Burke, the late Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
She calls herself a “warrior” and a “passionate advocate for things I feel strongly about.”
Madrigal is running in the May 10 polls without a vice president and a senatorial slate, stressing she wants to be an “agent of change, not out of personal ambition but out of principle.”
“If I were merely pushed by ambition, then it would be a walk in the park for me to run as senator. But as a senator I can serve the country only in a limited way and it gets very frustrating. So I cast my lot with God’s help.”
On Cloud 9
During the past two months, Madrigal has been on Cloud 9.
She has gotten the support of, among others, religious groups like the Pentecostal Ministry Church of Christ, party-list organizations like Abante Katutubo and Ating Coop.
Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, leader of the four million-strong Kingdom of Jesus Christ, told her during her recent visit to Sacred Mountain, his prayer retreat in Davao City, he wished she would win the presidency.
Another reason for her to be upbeat: The blessings of Mata Amritanandamayi, more popularly known in Kerala, India, as “Amma,” the “hugging saint mother.”
Clad in her trademark neon-green blazer, she has barnstormed major cities nationwide where her famous “Jamby bracelets” are her only campaign paraphernalia.
“They are my other trademark. People look for them. I guess my supporters view them as a tangible link between us. I’m so happy seeing the joy just one bracelet brings each person during my meet-and-greet motorcades. You have seen the frenzy yourself.”
Another campaign trademark are her tirades against Villar and running mate Sen. Loren Legarda.
Madrigal has been unflinching in her campaign against Villar for his role in the C-5 road extension project controversy and the “land development crimes” allegedly committed by his real estate firms.
She stresses that winning isn’t everything.
“If I lose, at least I shall have spent three months pushing for a platform which people will appreciate and maybe which will be a platform in the future … If I lose, I would continue my foundation work, my work with the people,” she says.
She heads, among others, Books for the Barangays Foundation, which has shipped thousands of books to public elementary and high schools nationwide, and another foundation which works to empower women and children through various livelihood projects.
“If you’re serving people, your work becomes a joy when your work is your life,” she says.
Win or lose, Madrigal says she would definitely find time for her other interests—books, music and films, to name a few.
History, music buff
According to Madrigal, “90 percent of my books are historical stuff. I’m a history buff … On my iPod are songs of the Black Eyed Peas, Andrea Bocelli, Baker Street, Charlotte Church, Beach Boys, Avril Lavigne, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Air Supply, Alanis Morissette, Cat Stevens, Donna Summers, Rolling Stones and many more. I’m very eclectic.”
“I don’t see my husband the whole day. So when I have no evening engagements, we see movies at Rockwell. Recently, we saw Avatar which was fantastic. Best film of all time? So many. I like ‘Philadelphia Story,’ ‘Casablanca.’ But I also like movies like ‘Patriot’ and ‘Braveheart,’ not because of Mel Gibson but what he stood for.”
Madrigal used to be a riding teacher in Europe. “Horseback riding is one of my passions,” she says.
She also would like to be able to travel again. “I’ve not taken a real vacation for a very long time because when you’re a politician you never really have a break,” she says.
Mingling with crocodiles
“Eric and I would like to dive again in Palau or Palawan or Mindoro or Apo Island. It’s fantastic to dive. It’s a very relaxing hobby,” says Madrigal, who has been in the sport for nearly 10 years.
Madrigal shows some of their underwater video footages in Palau.
“Eric took the video. There’s a manta ray, also Spanish mackerels, lots of tuna and garoupa. We didn’t care about the sharks because they’re so common,” she says, adding “I didn’t mind diving with barracudas. In Congress, I’ve already gotten used to mingling with crocodiles.”